Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Julia Jarcho's play American Treasure will be part of our Bay Area Playwrights Festival this year. Julia is a member of NYC's 13P and a PF Resident Playwright. We spoke to her about the play and her work.

Playwrights Foundation: Your play American Treasure explores the relationship between the wounds inflicted on Native peoples throughout American history and the role "Indians" play in our cultural fantasies. What drew you to this subject?

Julia Jarcho: I guess a few different things converged for me. One is that I found myself getting really psyched about the fact that my husband is part Cherokee--which made me ask myself what's at stake for me there, what it is I'm romanticizing or wishing for, which I have to suppose is something the culture at large has taught me to wish for. What is it that we want from our "Indians"? Why do we keep creating them over and over as a fantasy, and how do the facts of genocide fit in with that fantasy? This is also a question about how we do history in our everyday lives, and what it means to have desires that are oriented towards the past. Then there were also the movies I was watching (the play is about movies as much as anything else); the play's title is adapted from a certain pair of action movies (starring Nicolas Cage) which basically insist that America needs to keep getting "discovered" over and over again. That's a pretty fascinating idea, to me.

PF: American Treasure uses two actors to play a host of characters. What appealed to you about using morphing actors rather than the traditional one actor per character model?

JJ: Morphing actors! Cool. Well, the kind of theater I tend to be interested in isn't very character-driven. What I mean is that I'm not so into the idea of creating a set of realistic human beings whom the performers have to pretend to be. For me, it's more interesting to acknowledge that the performers are performers, working with a text and a physical world and a set of tasks which are not the ones we normally work with (although some of them might be). So that means there really isn't any reason to assign one character per actor. I think I tend to gravitate towards multiple-role performance because I get excited about theater as something that is getting done every time we see it, as a labor of imagination; and I think having a performer play more than one role emphasizes the work of making a world happen in your mind, which is both more and less than the world in which you just are who you are, no questions asked.

PF: When you were still in high school you worked with experimental theater director and playwright Richard Maxwell. How did this experience inform your aesthetic?

JJ: It was definitely an encouragement to follow my own logic, which is what he was doing (and still does). And that includes taking seriously your ability to amuse yourself. But also, I think working with him (and with other people I met through him: Aaron Landsman, Tory Vazquez) made me more aware of the wild precariousness of live theater, and of the value of honesty-- of not letting yourself disappear into either a fiction or an idea.

PF: What do you hope to achieve during the Festival this summer?

JJ: I hope to become very famous, very quickly. --Actually, 13P is producing American Treasure in New York in the fall, so this is going to be a great opportunity for me to get to know the play better, to start thinking about its existence in space and also to try new things with the text. There's always a question of how much the piece is going to "make sense" or tell a story, and how much it's going to push against its own storytelling, so I hope I can experiment in both directions through this process.

PF: What's up next for you?

JJ: Well, at the beginning of June I'm co-directing (and performing in) an adaptation of Edna St. Vincent Millay's play Aria Da Capo, with Target Margin Theater (in NYC). Then in the fall there's the 13P show. And I'm starting Mac Wellman's playwriting program at Brooklyn College, so I'm pretty excited about that.

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